It was Match Day 2018, yet another day of waking up at 4:00 a.m. for an email that would change my life. Once, I had an odd dream that I ranked programs in Canada and woke up to a “Did Not Match” email. This year, that dream is a reality — minus the Canada part.
Whether you went to pharmacy, medical, or dental school, you are familiar with the Match. None of us really enjoy it, and each time we explain it to family and friends, we feel confusion or anger. Sure, you get to choose where you apply and what you rank, but there are limited spots and you have zero idea about where you stand.
My first experience with the Match was filled with mixed emotions. While applying for a PGY-1 program as a fourth-year pharmacy student, I experienced a few disappointments during my application process. Some of the interview rejections felt personal; I sobbed for a while, but then I moved on, went through the interviews I did get, and matched at an academic hospital in Los Angeles. This time, when I read my match results at 4:00 a.m., I was delirious with anxiety and lack of sleep, but I was happy.
Halfway through the residency, I was doing well. I knew I had a passion for antimicrobial stewardship and teaching, and I’d decided, despite the emotional rollercoaster that occurred the first time, that I was going to try the Match again for a PGY-2 in Infectious Disease. Little did I know that my first experience with the Match would feel like a merry-go-round compared to my second.
The second time around, I caught raging colds, missed flights because of weather, got stuck in Philadelphia, and nearly lost my bags. I came back to California, only to be rejected from a program directed by my own mentor, who had nothing but positive feedback about my work. In the moment, I couldn’t accept the rejection. But later, I wiped away those tears and planned a party — “Niki’s Match or No Match Party” — because no matter what happened, I wanted to celebrate the next step of my life with the people I loved.
Match Day came and I didn’t match … but I had a pretty fun night, and I learned a few key lessons:
1. Rejection does not mean stop, it means take a different path.
I ended up taking a long vacation, and now I have a job in academia that allows me to achieve my career goals. Because I am not part of a residency program that will train me, I will train myself, seek mentorship, and focus on developing my skills. Failing to match is a small bump in your career and an even smaller bump in your life. The next time you experience a rejection, it might slow you down, but it should not stop you.
2. Focus on what you have, not what you don’t have.
Each year that I went through the Match, I celebrated my outcomes. Not matching can be an exciting outcome, too. I realized I had a strong support system. The days of rejection felt terrible, but I had friends that watched me sob and then made me laugh. I had many mentors that helped me determine my next steps. Of course, I had some interview rejections but I also had highly-competitive programs that did want to interview me. I had training from top programs, and those accomplishments would always stand. No one can take away your accomplishments. When you apply and interview for your next goal, always elaborate on and celebrate your existing accomplishments.
3. Your goals are in your hands alone.
The truth is, not one person’s opinion nor the opinions of 20 residency programs will determine your career and future accomplishments. Only you are in control of your career. I was one of two students in my class without a bachelor’s degree at the top ranked pharmacy program in the nation. When I applied to pharmacy school, people thought I was smart and hard-working, but literally not one person thought I could get accepted — except for me. Your goals are up you, no one else. You are your own advocate. Mentors, family, and loved ones may help you along the way, and you should use them, but only you can land your career goals.
Everyone goes through rejection and it is never easy. Remember that it impossible to change what has already happened, but that you have full control of your new direction.
Illustration by Jennifer Bogartz